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on this saturday night, one month to go. a wild week in the race for the white house, renewed momentum for the romney campaign and news tonight about a record fall for the president. all-time high. gas now the most expensive ever in california. why folks in the nation's biggest state are paying the price. freeze warning. after a summer like start to october, now the big chill. sign of the times, kids packing the cafeteria, but not just for lunch. why more and more schools are now serving dinner. and a tangled mess on one of the most congested highways in america, drivers can't believe it. a massive project brought to a grinding halt by the itsy-bitsy spider.
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from nbc news world headquarters in new york, this is nbc "fightly news" with lester holt. >> one month from today we'll be coming on the air counting down to the poll closings. the month to go mark in a race that's taken potential game changing twist this week. mitt romney's strong debate performance and yesterday's timely drop in the nation's unemployment rate. these are critical days on every level from fund-raising to how the candidates define themselves and each other to an electorate that is now fully engaged and focused. our andrea mitchell is standing by with analysis, but first nbc's peter alexander on the campaign trail in florida tonight. good evening. >> reporter: with one month to go, mitt romney is trying to capture the energy, with more enthusiastic crowds and a simpler message.
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>> thank you. >> reporter: after weeks that reenergized republicans and reinvigorated the race, president obama is trying to blunt mitt romney's momentum embracing friday's encouraging economic news. >> we learned that the unemployment rate is now at its lowest level since i took office. more americans are entering the workforce. more americans are getting jobs. >> but romney hasn't ceded any ground, attacking failed policies that have stifled growth. >> the participation of our adults in the workforce were the same as at the time he got elected our unemployment rate would be 11%. >> reporter: both are touting the fund-raising tallies. $181 million for obama in september, the most for either side this year. with romney collecting more than 12 million following the debate. >> both sides will have a tremendous amount of money down the final stretch of this campaign, particularly that obama $181 million. that's going to allow them potentially to compete almost one to one with all of that republican outside money.
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>> reporter: still, romney is facing lingering questions about some of his recent assertions. >> number one, pre-existing conditions are covered under my plan. >> reporter: including his argument that his health care plan would cover people who already have medical problems. that decision would be left to the state. that explanation was quickly picked up by president obama at a rally in northern virginia friday. >> governor romney was fact-checked by his own campaign. >> reporter: to counter opponents' effort as an out of touch executive, romney shifted to tell more of his own life story, including his friendship with a 14-year-old diagnosed with leukemia. >> there's a saying, clear eyes, full heart, can't lose. david couldn't lose. i love that young man. >> justin, this is actually ann romney calling. >> reporter: today ann visited phone banks in florida. >> i've been getting a lot of feedback about the debate?
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>> reporter: and looking to replicate his performance in the first debate, mitt romney is not wasting any time preparing for the second, squaring off against his sparring partner, his running mate paul ryan is preparing for this week's vice presidential debate and he is back home in wisconsin. >> peter alexander on the trail tonight in florida. thanks. let's bring in andrea mitchell now and she joins us from washington. andrea, governor romney had been held considered lukewarm in terms of the republican base early on in this. has that changed now? >> it has, indeed, lester. the romney campaign is trying to use the momentum from his debate performance to fire up that base and it seems to be working as well as motivating his grassroots organization. that effort was slightly blunted by the jobs numbers, one of his talking point, but the campaign is clearly feeling a lot of energy. the biggest change is they have a coherent message, one message. why would the next four years be any different than the current
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four years? the problem for team obama, the president didn't make that case for himself when he had 70 million people at the debate and now they'll take down mitt romney with fact-checking and challenging what he said in the debate in advertisements and speeches, but they will not have that same, large audience. >> peter noted that later in the week, the vice presidential debate will take place. could that be a potential game changer given the uneven debate we just saw this past week? >> normally the vice presidential debates are not that key, but now all eyes will be on joe biden to show that he can do a better job than his boss, if you will, president obama against paul ryan and this will be a tough debate. i've been told david axelrod had been planning to take charge of the debate camp, and now he is in charge with the vice president's team. >> andrea mitchell, thank you. >> you bet. another story we're following tonight, gas prices. they're dropping across much of the country which make the soaring increases in california all the more startling.
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the average price there $4.61 for a gallon of regular, the highest it's ever been. nbc's diana alviar. >> reporter: prices like these make californians consider staying at home. >> it costs $105 to fill up my tank report report it climbed 12 cents overnight to $4.61. that matches the state record set in june 2008. it's as high as $5 at a few stations in the state. the national average is lower, $3.81 a gallon, but still, the highest ever for this time of year. and yet, prices are beginning to fall across the country. so why are californians getting hit so hard? >> there's a bit of a perfect storm of bad events, really. we had a slow supply level of gasoline because we're going into the winter formulation blend season and on top of that, refining problems and an oil
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pipeline problem and the wholesale market blew up joo that created a run on what's left, forcing stations to shut down last week. when this costco in pacoima re-opened last night there were long lines. and when prices are this high, consumer can expect to feel the pinch in other places as well. vendors at this farmer's market fear they may have to pass on the cost to consumers. >> $20 or $30 extra a trip and that's just to get the produce from the farm to l.a. >> reporter: the good news is this pain at the pump is temporary. experts say they need the supplies to get back online and that winter blend in place, but until then, californians are just going to have to ride it out. lester? >> diana, thank you. now to the weather, after a mild start to october, temperatures have started to plunge in some parts of the country and come tomorrow morning a lot of folks are in for a frigid awakening. julie martin has more from the weather channel headquarters. julie, good evening. >> lester, this first blast of
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winter is sweeping from the midwest to the northeast and it's dumped inches in north and south dakota, and millions will have to contend with frigid, arctic air for the next couple of days. tomorrow we're looking at record lows in the teens in wyoming and nebraska and near record lows in kansas, iowa and wisconsin. those frost and freeze advisories stretch from north texas all of the way through the nation's heartland on the heels of one of the worst droughts in u.s. history. bad news for corn and soybean crops. fortunately, about half of those have been harvested. in some cases those temps will be close to 20 degrees below average. it will be a chilly morning for 45,000 runners taking to the streets of chicago for the marathon on sunday. lester, back to you. >> julie martin at weather channel headquarters, thanks. tonight, health officials a rare meningitis outbreak has now claimed seven lives. the cdc says it has spread to 60 people across nine states. the newest cases in minnesota
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and ohio. they're reportedly linked to a steroid produced by a specialty pharmacy in massachusetts. an update tonight from american airlines. the company says all of its boeing 757s are back in service after being grounded late this week to fix a locking mechanism that caused rows of seats on several planes to come loose mid-flight. the airline says all of the problems with the seats have now been resolved. overseas now to the crisis in syria and rising tensions tonight between syria and one of its neighbors, turkey. the two countries exchanged fire for a fourth straight day, adding to fears that syria's bloody civil war could spill over into a more widespread confli conflict. nbc ayman mohadean. >> reporter: turkey's border with syria felt more like a war zone. shortly after syrian mortar landed saturday, turkey
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responded by shelling inside syrian territory. as tensions remained high, residents living in the border town were still praying for their dead. here, mourners came to pay their respects to omar timechen. he lost his wife and three daughters wednesday in a mortar fight from inside syria landed on his house in particulary. a day later, the turkish parliament authorized the government to carry out military operations beyond its own borders, threatening to widen syria's war throughout the nation. you can see the town that is held by opposition rebels, but every day according to the residents here the syrian military which is on the outskirts fires mortars and shells into this town. sometimes they overshoot and the mortars end uplanding on the homes of farmers. they fled the border region because it had been too dangerous to stay here.
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he showed me where a stray bullet struck his house and told me they couldn't sleep at night because the shells fell like rain. when once the sounds of animals were all you could hear along the border, now rumbling jeeps are reminders that syria's war is increasingly reaching beyond its borders. >> now to the scandal rocking the vatican. the pope's former butler found guilty today of stealing private papal documents and leaking them to a reporter, but tonight the butler is expecting a pardon. paulo gabrieli was always close to the pope or at his side serving dinner. it was a trusted position and he betrayed that trust, handing over thousands of copies of documents to an investigative journalist who was writing a tell-all book. it caused a sensation with accusations of fighting and financial misdealings.
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in court the butler confessed to the crime and said he did it out of love for the church. his lawyer said he shouldn't be remembered as a thief and even hopes that in the future his motives will be rewarded for the butler said it himself in court this morning, he did what he did for the sake of the church and of the pope. >> vatican judges disagreed, sentencing gabrieli to 18 months in prison. the butler has to wait for forgiveness from the very man he betrayed. the pope's spokesman says a pardon is likely and the pontiff will now study the court file and decide, but questions still remain. was gabrieli acting alone as he claims? some believe the case masked a wider power struggle within the vatican. with or without help, he was a humble, trusted butler who exposed the inner workings of the catholic church. nbc news, london. there's more ahead on this saturday night.
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food for thought, why the school cafeteria isn't just for breakfast and lunch anymore. later, paying tribute to a genuine american hero. ♪ into a scooter that talks to the cloud? ♪ or make 70,000 trades a second... ♪ reach one customer at a time? ♪ how do you help doctors turn billions of bytes of shared information... ♪ into a fifth anniversary of remission? ♪ or turn 30-million artifacts... ♪ into a high-tech masterpiece?
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back now with a sign of the times. some schools across the country where some kids are sticking around long after the last bell for the final meal of the day they otherwise may not get. rahima ellis reports. >> reporter: nestled in the hills of west virginia is doddridge elementary school. inside, a familiar scene, students lining up to eat in the cafeteria. >> grab your milk. >> reporter: but it's 5:20 in the evening and this is a free dinner, chicken and salad wraps with apple crisp for dessert. >> it just tastes really good. >> reporter: with more than 25% of children living at or below the poverty line in west virginia, the need is great. >> some children when they leave here at the end of the day they
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don't eat another meal until they come in in the morning. >> you're welcome. >> some of these kids will ask for seconds because you know there's a sibling at home that hasn't eaten yet and they want to put it in their backpack so they'll have something to eat. >> reporter: doddridge is one of 120 schools where 50% of the students qualify for subsidized school dinners. it's part of a ten-year program to provide dinner to school kids in the nation's poorest communities. >> honestly, i was, like, oh, one more thing that we are going have to do, but then the benefits that we've seen far outweigh any inconvenience that it may have had. >> reporter: experts say students just do better at school when they're well fed. tina mccartney, a work other mother says it also helps the family's bottom line. >> think i save an average of $40 a week. >> reporter: while the dinner is free the kids can't just show up
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and eat. they also have to be enrolled in the after-school academic program, right? >> yep. >> reporter: there are extra classes and tutoring and reading and math. >> we saw classroom performance increase. we saw a decrease in the discipline referrals. >> reporter: some wonder at what cost. >> i wonder when kids eat three meals a day at school when is there going to be family bonding time? >> we've come a long way since "leave it to beaver," kids need dinner. kids can't go to bed hungry. >> reporter:'s america's schools responding to a growing need, food for thought. rahima ellis, doddridge, west virginia. the stunning discovery no bigger than a dime leaving drivers steaming mad. s, can you start the day the way you want? can orencia help? [ woman ] i wanted to get up when i was ready, not my joints. [ female announcer ] could your "i want" become "i can"? talk to your doctor.
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>> the first wild card playoff game in baseball history lived up to its name. a wild scene at the diamond last night in atlanta thanks to a complicated rule that's rarely used. thousands of braves fans cheered thinking this was the moment they loaded the bases on the brink of a comeback, but because of something called the infield fly rule, even though the baseball hit the ball the umpire called the batter out. the call led to angry braves fans to litter the field. after a nearly 20-minute delay the game resumed and st. louis end the the atlanta season. it was supposed to be the answer of a traffic nightmare, but in san antonio, texas, a major construction project has come to a sudden halt due to conservation efforts against frustrated drivers. here's janet shamlian.
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>> reporter: it's deserted now, but for nongs that had been a busy construction zone. an underpass designed to ease congestion at one of san antonio's biggest bottlenecks. >> it is quite consistent. >> but the $15 million project is now on hold, due to the endangered spider. it's about the size of a dime. >> what's significant about it is it's the first time we've seen it in 30 years. a lot of people thought this guy was distinct, but it's exciting in the biological world. >> reporter: it was found in a hole right in the middle of a construction zone. there was only one spider found, but because it is a federally protected endangered species and because there could be a habitat in the ground below here, it has all, but canceled, the plans for the underpass. it's not the first time. endangered tortoises and lizards have held up oil projects and oil drilling, but an itsy-bitsy spider? [ screaming ]
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>> reporter: critics say it's something out of a horror movie. >> stopping this project when we've only seen a couple of these spiders in decades really doesn't make a lot of sense. the texas department of transportation is back at the drawing board, but a workaround for the 80,000 drivers who pass through here each day could be years away. >> it's ridiculous. surely we can do something else with a spider. >> reporter: a tangled mess as a rare spider creates a web of complication. janet shamlian, nbc news, san antonio. >> reporter: when we come back here tonight the huge turnout to salute one of america's bravest. we had a great spot, not easy to find, but worth it. but with copd making it hard to breathe, i thought those days might be over. so my doctor prescribed symbicort. it helps significantly improve my lung function starting within five minutes. symbicort doesn't replace a rescue inhaler for sudden symptoms. with symbicort, today i'm breathing better.
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this broadcast on the road the last couple of weekends to afghanistan where 68,000 americans are still fighting this nation's longest war. 11 years of conflict have produced plenty of heartache, but also tremendous examples of sacrifice and courage and today, here in new york, the navy's newest war ship was formally dedicated to one of its own who gave it all for his brothers in arms. ♪ ♪ ♪ >> i hereby place united states ship michael murph ney commission. >> reporter: the newest destroyer in the navy fleet is named after navy s.e.a.l. michael murphy killed in 2005 while fighting one of the fiercest battles in nas.e.a.l. history. >> it bears the name of a great american. >> reporter: lieutenant murphy was the leader of a four-man team on a reconnaissance mission. the s.e.a.l.s came across three
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goat herders, but despite the risk they would betray the s.e.a.l.s presence to the taliban and murphy ordered them released and not killed. >> wouldn't even cross his mind to injure a noncombatant. >> reporter: as feared, the taliban were tipped off and attacked. his team outnumbered 10-1, fought back. they radioed for backup, but in a selfless act to save his men, murphy moved into the open, immediately drawing enemy fire to make a desperate call for help. >> he took two rounds to the back and dropped down and sat back up, picked the phone back up and started talking again. >> reporter: 19 servicemen died that day. >> it is your teammate who lays down his life for yours. >> reporter: murphy was posthumously awarded the congressional medal of honor for his character and courage. >> man your ship. >> reporter: maureen murphy, michael's mother is the ship's sponsor. >> michael is very humble, but
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he would be proud because of all of the crew members on the ship, they have a lot of characteristics that are like him. >> reporter: for the 290 crew member, a chance to live up to his example. >> it is truly an honor to now do our part to uphold his legacy and the legacy of his teammates. >> the guided missile destroyer which will be based in hawaii weighs in at 290 tons and 109-feet long. it was built in maine by bath ironworks. >> we wish you fair winds and following seas and in the navy on motto semper fortis, forever courageous. the hall of heros is a tribute and a reminder of the mission. chief petty officer jake doherty knew michael murphy and says what happened changed the course of his life. >> we'll take this ship out to fight the enemy will be the biggest part for me of bringing mike back to the fight.
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>> tomorrow marks the 11th anniversary of the start of the war in afghanistan. that's nbc nightly news for this saturday. i'm lester holt. thanks for joining us. we'll see you tomorrow morning on "today." good night.
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